Have you noticed how uncomfortable pauses in conversation seem to cut even deeper right now, making you second-guess so much more of what you do and say? Just today, I’ve nervously wondered at least a dozen times whether I said the wrong thing or unintentionally hurt someone’s feelings. This extended time in solitude has changed the way we communicate, and it seems that despite the best efforts of technological tools like Zoom and FaceTime, we’re feeling less connected to each other, opening each of us up to swaths of self-loathing doubt. And that may explain why those awkward pauses on your video chats, or stilted phone calls with a friend who’s just plain old exhausted, or the slight edge of irritation in your mother’s voice has you feeling like everyone hates you.
Rest assured, everyone absolutely doesn’t hate you. While it’s true that more people may have a heightened emotional response right now to stressors and irritants that might not have normally registered as triggering to them, what’s likely happening is that you’re internalizing that you’re object of their irritation. One reason to explain this is that we’re not communicating in person as much anymore, and as a result, we have way fewer signals to lean on to confirm that our relationships are in tact and all is well. Think about all the things that are lost when you can’t see someone IRL: little pats on the bat, the ability to hug it out, micro gestures that denote playfulness. Without those things, we have this social dead-air space that we fill with our worst assumptions.
“Talking with people online means that we can‘t read their nonverbals as well, and because almost everyone is having a difficult time now, we might take their moods personally.” —clinical psychologist Aimee Daramus, PsyD
“If we‘re alone with our thoughts, there‘s so much mental space for old issues to come up, because we don‘t have the faster pace of life to push those issues down,” says clinical psychologist Aimee Daramus, PsyD. “Talking with people online or over the phone means that we can‘t read their nonverbals as well. And because almost everyone is having a difficult time now, we might take their moods personally.” This slow pace of life can also contribute to negative self-talk because empty space in your mind can create an echo chamber of sorts for friendship imposter syndrome thoughts to bounce all over the place.
Furthermore, plenty of personal insecurities may be piling up as a result of new problems arising that don’t necessarily have great solutions. So while comforting others or offering advice or thoughts may feel underwhelming, taking blame may just be a way for you to retain a lost sense of control by making these problems about you. “In a strange way, blaming yourself can be comforting because it gives you the illusion that if you can just be better, then you’ll get things back under control,” says Dr. Daramus.
But there’s no need to settle for feeling like everyone hates you when that’s not the case at all. A great first strategy to try to address this issue is to communicate effectively and articulate your feelings with words since your nonverbal cues aren’t able to do their job as well right now. “Let people know when your moods aren’t their fault,” says Dr. Daramus. “Try to quiet your mind and figure out which of your needs aren’t being met. Meet those needs if you can, but at least acknowledge them consciously so they can’t control you.”
And regarding your sensitivity to the negative vibes of other people: You can inquire about whether something is up. But while it’s possible that they’re indeed mad at you, despite you really having no idea why, it’s not the likely culprit of their mood you’re feeling. So instead, go inward to that empty space in your mind and see what thoughts might be bouncing around your internal echo chamber.
“Be realistic about what you can and can’t control, and when you start blaming or criticizing yourself, try to recognize when it isn’t really your fault,” Dr. Daramus says. “Try art, journaling, or some kind of self-expression to get some insight into it.”
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